Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Netflix. The average American in 2015 took in 34 GB of information every day. That’s 100,000 words! My mind hurts just thinking about it.
Because of the deluge of data, our brains are becoming overloaded. We spend so much time trying to focus that we can’t. Our minds can only process so much at once. Though it may sound counterintuitive, to focus better, it helps to take regular mental rests. Taking breaks from thinking frees up space so the brain can think creatively. We need to erase the junk and clear our minds so we can process what is important to dwell on.
Personally, trying to tear myself away from my desk is difficult. Putting alerts on my calendar at work to pop up and remind me to give my mind a breather has helped me refocus. I am not recommending scrolling the internet all day or streaming movies on YouTube when it’s time to work. We need to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). But when we take the time to mentally unwind, we don’t hit tunnel vision where creativity and productivity end. Instead, stand up and stretch. This can be invigorating as it gets blood (and thoughts) flowing again.
Other suggestions for mental rests include:
These breaks don’t have to be long. Five to ten minutes is fine. But the little space you give opens the door to mental renewal.
Not only do we need to rest our minds, we also need to conduct regular mental resets. Mark 12:30 says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (NKJV). We are supposed to love the Lord with all of our mind. If we aren’t aware of our thoughts, how can we love God with our minds?
Every morning I recite Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (NKJV). When the deep thoughts inside me please God, the things that come out of my mouth will also honor God.
I’ve learned that instead of letting my thoughts stream freely, I must slow them down and inspect them. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (NKJV). The enemy inserts evil thoughts into my mind. If I am not attentive, those thoughts will take root and choke out the truth. When I examine my thoughts, I can determine if they match God’s Word. If they don’t, my job is to uproot them like a weed, and replace them with truths from the Bible.
I am growing in how I love the Lord with my mind. Through His strength, I am stepping away from the onslaught of information to clear my head, and taking my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. No matter how much data enters, if it doesn’t match Scriptures, I need to delete it. I pray our minds conform to the mind of Christ each and every day.
This week I had the honor to guest blog for College and Clayton Press. A recent bought with the flu forced me to slow down and reflect on Biblical rest.
Below is an exert from the blog and a link to the rest of the article:
Last week, the flu gave me an unexpected gift. The nurse advised that sleep and fluids were the two most important things I could do to recover. Six days of sickness had reduced me to cough drops and herbal tea.
While asking God to heal me, God reminded me that rest is part of His plan. I live in a big city where if you aren’t Type A, you may not survive. Everyone is expected to be busy. If you aren’t, you are labeled lazy. To try to keep up, I have been going and going like the energizer bunny. God, however, wanted me to slow down. I had already hurt my foot and been walking slower, but apparently, I needed to halt.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. Psalm 5:3 NKJV
I am not a morning person.
Caffeine is my friend. I drag myself out of bed and struggle to dress in the dark lest the light burn my eyes. I’ve gone to work with mismatched shoes because I fumble for them under my bed by touch. In grad school, my ultimate goal was to lie down again, which meant that if I could rest for sixty seconds I’d return to bed.
But I’ve discovered when I don’t start my day seeking God, the day goes downhill quickly. Once, I was in a rush and skipped my morning Bible reading. The results were disastrous. Management didn’t like the project I presented, and, instead of calmly taking the feedback, I left in a fog. Had I read Psalm 124 that morning as planned, my perspective would have differed. I would have remembered the Lord was on my side. When people rose against me, they wouldn’t swallow me whole. God would protect me.
The psalmist knew the importance of turning his heart heavenward in the morning. When I meditate on Scripture before I face the day, it provides a lens of truth through which to frame my experiences. Once I leave home, the world seeks to overwhelm my mind with information. If I have no filter to sort the onslaught, then everything becomes factual and weighs down my soul.
I have to choose to answer God’s invitation to look to Him in the morning. I try to read a psalm or a proverb each day before work. These books have enough chapters to cover six months, so I read them through twice in a year. Maybe other verses call you louder, but the point is that we need to respond to God early. God will help us pull back those sheets and open His Word so we can start the day right.
With Jesus (and a little coffee) you can be ready for whatever comes your way.
Used by permission Christian Devotions Ministries
After receiving stitches for my dog bite, the nurse gave me special footwear. The ugly black shoe extended past my toes and was built to fit either foot. A thick flat base prevented me from rolling my foot and opening the stitches. The top opened with two sets of Velcro to ease pressure on the wound and allow me to get in and out of the shoe. It wasn’t as clunky as the medical boots, but still marked me as the walking wounded.
Upon returning to work, I was amazed at how many people stopped to empathize. At first, I thought the shoe was giving me away. Then I realized my slug’s pace was another clue. Apparently, many people had experienced foot or leg problems and remembered their trials. Once I chatted with three strangers in a hallway, all of us with leg issues. We shared our struggles with mobility and encouraged each other.
Their comforting words kept me going. Because they were in the same predicament, they knew my difficulties. If they could do it, so could I.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NKJV says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
God comforts us in our hard times. Yet, this verse points out an interesting reason as to why He comforts us. So that when others are troubled, we can extend to them the same comfort we received from the Lord. We aren’t to hoard our comfort, but empathize with others and seek to help them. Even the areas where we feel entitled to be selfish are really to point the glory back to God.
In high school, I dropped a moving ramp on my other foot and tore the tendon to my big toe. The doctor gave me emergency foot surgery that day, and I later had to go under anesthesia at the hospital for them to fix it. I started high school on crutches, enduring raw skin under my arms and gaining uneven leg muscles. Ever afterwards I tried to hold doors for people on crutches and extend empathy when possible. It helps to have a recent reminder to care for others.
God knows that down the road, someone will need our help. If we have walked a similar path ourselves and survived, we are better equipped to encourage them. Those people can gain strength to continue because they know others have gone before them. God doesn’t waste our hurt, but transforms it into something marvelous for His glory.
While I still find the black shoe ugly, I know the empathy I’ve gained from wearing it will make me more beautiful inside. And with large scars now on both feet, I may never win any beauty contests. However, I pray for beautiful feet that will carry the gospel and love of Christ wherever He leads me.
While visiting my family for Thanksgiving, the family dog started whimpering at me. His deep brown eyes begged to go outside. I grabbed the phone and the dog leash and headed out to walk.
On the way back, I noticed a big German Shepherd leading around a tiny teenage girl, growling. Usually another dog would bark or maybe sniff at our dog. This dog leapt to attack our Schnauzer. I pivoted away, only to feel teeth tear into my flesh.
I fell into the middle of the road. My body shook from sobbing, tears blurring my eyes. I cradled my foot in shock. A lovely older couple driving by stopped to help. They had me take off my shoe and sock. I howled harder when I saw the bleeding hole. The husband took my dog and I back to my family while his wife called the police. I was embarrassed to be witnessed crying, but thankful that God sent them.
We rushed to urgent care where they worked me in immediately. A doctor knit my wound closed with seven tight stitches. While not ideal, I was thankful it wasn’t worse. It would eventually heal and didn’t require surgery.
Although I spent Thanksgiving vacation hobbling around the house with a cane, I figured I could manage without help at the airport. Bad idea. I had to check my bag at the gate because the flight was too full. I started pulling my hair at the thought of picking up my luggage later.
Fortunately, the airline employee offered to order a wheel chair upon arrival to take me to the baggage claim. My pride wanted to stick it out, but I knew I couldn’t. The man who brought my wheel chair was a friendly Jamaican whose light banter eased my pain. God knew what I needed.
Countless times I have needed help over the last month. My typical mode is to help others. It feels good to assist people. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Following Christ’s example as a servant lets me feel useful.
However, as much as I want to help others, sometimes I need to receive help. When I don’t let others help me, or when I ridicule myself as weak, the root problem is my pride. James 4:6 says, “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” When I refuse help or try to push through on the own, I am not being humble. I don’t want God to resist me because I resisted help. The same way that I feel good serving others, people like helping me. I am denying them of joy when I try to do everything myself. Receiving help squashes my pride and builds humility.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.” Some seasons, I can give. Others, God slows me down so I don’t get too big for my own shoes. Instead, He keeps me humble by showering His mercy on me through the hands and faces of those around me. It strikes me as ironic that this happened the day before Thanksgiving. Though the dog bite was unpleasant, I am thankful for the joy in learning to receive help.
Guest Blogger: This week, I am blessed to have my friend April Estes guest blog for me. We met at the first writers conference I ever attended and connected instantly. We literally shut down the party as we were the last ones in the lobby at 11 pm the first night. She just published her first book The Pearl of Great Price. The book explores the struggles Christians have to stay strong in our marriages in a very genuine and relatable way. I thoroughly enjoyed her book! Here she shares a lesson on love from one of the scenes.
I’ve recently published a book, The Pearl of Great Price. In the book there is a touching scene between the main character, Lacey, and her grandfather. Lacey had just suffered a break-up, and tearfully bemoaned to her grandfather how she had made a fool of herself, “jumping in full force into a relationship with no guarantees of any kind of return” - giving her all without knowing how things would turn out.
“But, sweetie,” the grandfather tenderly says, “That’s what love is. That’s what it does.” (That quote inspired one of my songs that says, “That’s what love is, that’s what it does: jumps full-in at full throttle, just because...”)
You see, love sometimes DOES look ridiculous: it’s a father running to his wayward, prodigal son; a mother placing her son in a watery basket; a queen risking her life for a minority people; the savior of the world coming to save, through death. But that’s what love does: it gives all - not without fear, but in spite of it. It gives everything it’s got with no guarantees, no promise of return. The Bible says love “isn’t selfish, thinking one’s own self,” but, rather, is “full of hope, believing all things are possible.” (I Cor. 13). So, today, if you’re feeling a bit “ridiculous,” fear not! That’s what love is! That’s what it does!
Biography: April Estes was born and raised in middle Tennessee, where she enjoyed growing up in a small, Southern town. She attended Freed-Hardeman University, and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mississippi State University with an Elementary Education degree. She taught school in Americus, Georgia, before starting a family and moving all around the South USA, homeschooling four children. She enjoys songwriting in her spare time.
Recently, I felt so low that I wanted to crawl under my desk and sob. God’s grace kept me in my seat, and I made it home in one piece physically. Mentally and emotionally, I was torn by painful life circumstances that only seemed to get worse. I called a friend that night to vent and was surprised at the venom spewing from my lips. Something had to change.
My focus was skewed. All I could see were dark stains of heartache, instead of seeking God’s light. I needed to look for joy instead of letting the whirlwind sweep me away. That night I made a top five gratitude list:
First, the sunset displayed God’s splendor. If I only saw the gray cloud surrounding my circumstances, I would’ve missed God's majestic pink and purple masterpiece in the sky that evening. It reminded me that the Almighty Artist was painting my life so that He received glory. The canvas wasn’t complete and needed contrast from shadows.
Second, third, and fourth, God provided for my basic needs of shelter and clothing. The day before I’d met a homeless woman. She was an alcoholic. Her husband had kicked her out of the house and then sold it. I offered to call her insurance for help, but she wasn’t interested. She took a scarf and blanket as she told me that she slept in a cemetery. My life was amazing by comparison.
Fifth, I had friends to encourage me during my season of darkness. God had not left me alone. My friend graciously let me rant and rage about how I wondered if I was cursed because so many terrible things kept happening. It felt like a game of whack-a-mole, with the large hammer walloping me as soon as I was brave enough to venture out again. I concluded that we live in a fallen world. Even as Christians we are not immune to suffering.
Yet, despite our suffering, we are to praise. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” My mom cautioned against using words like always and everything because usually there were exceptions. However, the Bible tells us we are to rejoice always and in everything give thanks. Does this mean I am supposed to be happy about horrible things beyond my control? No. Does this mean that if I look for good in the midst of trouble, I’ll find something to be thankful for? Yes.
Thankfulness is a spiritual weapon that brings peace. Philippians 4:7-8, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” When we offer our petitions to the Lord, we come with thanksgiving. Sometimes, maybe all we have to be grateful for is the breath in our lungs. That counts. If you can’t find much, ask God to show you. The list is probably much longer than you imagine.
Another place where Scripture connects the concepts of thankfulness and peace is Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Since I wrote the gratitude list above, I've prioritized writing what I’m thankful for every night before going to sleep. I’ve even gotten out of bed twice to ensure that I captured my blessings on paper.
The power of gratitude is unstoppable. The process is starting to change how I think. Recently, while commuting to work, I wondered what my list would look like that night. When I started looking for things to be grateful for, I discovered five things was insufficient. My circumstances remain the same, but my peace has multiplied.
Maybe you feel like you are living at the bottom of the pit of despair with no way out. Cry out to Jesus with your petition, and season your prayer with gratitude. I can’t guarantee that your life will miraculously fall into place tomorrow. However, God’s peace will start to rule your spirit. As you enter His gates with thanksgiving in your heart, may His peace be the walls that guard your heart and mind.
When I was a little girl, I colored in long strokes with a permanent red marker on my blue bedspread. Eager to show my mom my artistic abilities, I wasn’t prepared for her distress. She apparently saw my masterpiece as a stain to eliminate. The washing machine worked overtime. My mom went through half the bottle of stain remover as she scrubbed it many times until the bedspread was pristine. I never played with red Sharpies again.
Jesus' sacrifice serves as the permanent stain remover for our sins. In the Old Testament, everyone, even the priests, had to continually offer sacrifices of bulls and goats to cover their sins before God. Now we have a different standing with God. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (NKJV). Jesus only had to offer Himself once to make us spotless for eternity.
When He died on the cross, His blood flowed backwards to cover the sins of humanity. Romans 3:24b-26a says, "Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness" (NKJV). God knew His Son Jesus would obey the Father and drink the cup of wrath that we deserved so He passed over those sins for a time. The coming Messiah made it possible for everyone who ever lived to go to heaven. All salvation pivots on the work of the cross where every sin was washed white.
Jesus not only paid for the sins of people in the past, but for our sins on this side of the cross. We can come to the Lord with confidence when we request forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV). We will be restored by the blood of the Lamb when we acknowledge our sins before God. We agree with God that our actions violate His commands. Then we thank God that He has already forgiven us through the finished work of the cross. We hide our lives in Christ so the Father sees His righteousness when He looks on us.
While you’d never wash your clothes in blood, His blood is the only detergent that can cleanse our consciences. Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Guilt and shame, once inevitable, are now banished by the blood. We are free to have peace with God.
The cleansing power of the blood encompasses all people, past and present, permanently. Jesus’ gift of laying down His life provides the means to restore our evil minds to an inconceivable purity. I thank Jesus for the stain removing power of His blood to wash me clean from the inside out so I may walk in new life.
My guest blogger this week is Ed Windhausen, a friend from my Word Weavers writers' group. I love his poetry and children's stories. He also has a heart for missions. I am pleased to share his insights with you, and hope you enjoy the devotion!
What am I doing?
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was all a big blur. How had I gotten here? What had I done to make it to this place, this dark, cold, brown, dangerous, yet beautiful place? The dust choked us as we drove. Too many of us packed into a 1964 Land Rover, bouncing and jostling into each other as we bumped along what really wasn’t what any of us recognized as a road, but rather a collection of jigsaw pieces of asphalt between large soil filled holes. Hours and hours of zig-zagging to avoid damaging the precious vehicle our host missionaries relied on for their travel, safety, and a majority of the work being done in this remote area of the Zambian bush.
Upon our arrival into camp, we had to clear the grass under the trees to make space for our tents. Tents that we had to figure out how to set up under the minimal light of the headlamps we used. We were all exhausted after two days of travel through four airports. We had experienced long lay-overs, close quarters in coach, way too much dairy on our French airline, and the six-hour wild car ride we had just endured. But, once the tents were up, another team member summoned me into a nearby field. It was then that I saw, the first of many amazing sights I would experience on this excursion. As I gazed into the heavens, I saw more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I felt both small and enormous as I contemplated my role in God’s plan for His fallen world. The twinkling of the stars blurred as my eyes watered at the enormity of what was taking place within my heart. I was being changed, whether I liked it or not, but what was I doing?
Sleep came quickly even though it was a chilly 45 degrees in the bush that night. The exhaustion of travel and pending excitement assured that I slept through the night. The rooster crow that awakened me before dawn the next morning, I suspected had come from our host missionary who seemed to delight in confusing the bleary eyed, sleep drunk westerners with his antics. I got dressed quickly to prevent the chill in the air from entering my bones, and was greeted with tail wags and whimpers from the camp dogs as I emerged from my tent. The crisp morning air was evident in the clouds of vapor lit up by my headlamp as I exhaled. I never knew it could be so cold in Africa. We had learned in our training that regions south of the equator experienced winter opposite of our seasonal calendar up north; therefore, our trip was in the middle of a Zambian winter.
For breakfast we had real coffee brewed over a campfire along with scrambled eggs and toast cooked the same way. We ate sitting around the campfire with plates on our laps, wondering what we would do in this remote place. During our training we had learned to be FAT; flexible, adaptable, and trainable, but were we prepared for what was about to happen? Would we be able to manage the shock of being plucked from the comforts of home, and dropped into the deep bush of Africa?
After taking care of Mother Nature’s call in a dark hole dug in the ground, I was about to find out if I had what it took to serve my Lord in a difficult way. It wasn’t digging into the dry, hard, dusty ground that posed the greatest challenge for me. I was glad to help establish an orphanage in this place that was being ravaged by a horrendous disease that robbed children of their parents, and often became their companion for life. It wasn’t the food, which consisted mostly of a mash of ground corn and small, cardboard consistency, salty fish for protein, if they were available. I could handle the discomfort of sleeping in a tent in the bush. I wasn’t bothered by the cold nights and hot African days. It wasn’t even the possibility of encountering the dangers of venomous snakes, scorpions, or very large spiders. What scared me the most was that burning question; what was I doing?
How would I help? The fact was, most of the people I encountered were blissful in their ignorance of the fate of their souls. But, I knew. I knew that these beautiful people, who would welcome me into their homes and schools, were destined to an eternity of suffering and separation from the Creator who loved them, simply because they had been born in a place that did not have access to the truth of Jesus Christ. This broke my heart in a way that I had never, or would never again experience. I had already fallen in love with these people, and I could not figure out why.
What was compelling me to pause and stand on the side of a dusty path, speaking aloud to my Lord as I walked to the morning briefing before starting our work? What power was making me promise Him that if He wanted me to do this, I would? If He wanted me to turn my life upside down in service to His children, I would. If He asked the greatest sacrifice from me, I would gladly lay down my life to bring just one soul to His side. As a husband and father, I understood commitment to those I loved, but to contemplate dying for a stranger. What was I doing?
We worked. We ate. We prayed. We loved. We sang. We slept. I cried. I wept because I knew. I knew that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was not at all about what I was doing, it was about what was being done in me. All my worries, all my anxieties, all my feelings of self-loathing, were being healed. I was there to help people I had never met before, but I was being helped more than all of them combined. God was giving me a gift that would change my life from this point forward. God was showing me who I was in His kingdom. God was giving me the chance to use the gifts He had so generously given to me. Phillipians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (NKJV). Along the way I was discovering that it is not at all about, what am I doing? But, it is all about, what God is doing.
Ed Windhausen is a life long student who has not yet made it out of preschool, a field in which he has worked for the last 25 years. A recent graduate of George Mason University, with a master’s degree in early childhood special education, he has a heart to advocate for those who are not able to do so for themselves. Ed is currently serving his home church as a deacon and chair of the mission’s committee. He can also be found singing in the choir or playing harmonica at men’s ministry events. While he has a passion for writing, his devotion lies with Jesus Christ. Ed is the happiest while serving the Lord and spending time with his two grown daughters, Briana and Lindsey.
Have you ever considered getting an accountability partner, but had no idea what to discuss? This practical checklist covers physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial questions you can cover with your accountability partner during monthly meetings. It is not exhaustive, so feel free to add more. You know best which areas are struggles for you and where you need more encouragement.
If you meet with your accountability partner on a monthly basis, I suggest tackling no more than a few goals each month so you don’t get overwhelmed. Sometimes I chose one goal from each area, but other times I need to focus on a specific category more than others. That works. You drive where you need to grow so that you get the most from the experience.
What other things would you add? Please post your suggestions below. Thanks!
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.